Escape from Drogheda

Knowing today was going to be tough, we did our best to get a reasonably early start, so breakfast was at 07.45 and we were on the road by 08.30. The climb out of Newry was a bit of a ‘jump-start’ but we soon picked up an excellent cycle path running alongside the  motorway which took us to Dundalk. Navigation has been a challenge, us going mapless and all, so we struggled to find the designated route at times, but by heading in the right general direction and keeping the sea on our left, we got to our coffee time stop in the right place and pretty much on time. Foley’s tea rooms, at Castlebellingham, was a welcome break at the 22 mile point, with plenty of real Irish ambience. We soon found the road to Drogheda, which was about the half way point and our designated lunch stop – getting in was easy, it being situated on the banks of the river Boyne, in a natural hollow. Lunch was courtesy of McDonalds and then it was time to go…Given our aforementioned navigational issues, we had three attempts to escape from Drogheda. On each occasion this involved a sustained climb out of the town for a distance of a couple of miles, only to discover that we were on the wrong road and we had to return to the town centre! We did eventually locate the R108 and managed to escape, but it put half a dozen unnecessary miles onto an already long day. The R108 eventually took us all the way to the centre of Dublin, a distance of  about 45 miles, giving a day total of a massive 77 miles or  123k! We did enjoy a totally unexpected afternoon tea stop in the village of Naul when we came upon the Seamus Ennis cultural centre – Seamus is a bit of a cult figure to both Bry and me, being one of the grand masters of the uillean pipes. We eventually got to Dublin at about 6.00pm and successfully met up with Jane, who had flown out specially to be with us on our rest day – at the half way point in our epic journey.

Stats for the days ride are given below:

Inside Foley’s tea rooms – coffee and curios

Bryan preparing to depart after enjoying Foley’s Irish hospitality

The (distant) Mountains of Mourne – what we should have seen the day before!

Lost in Drogheda…but not for the last time!

The ‘shrine’ to the revered uillean pipe player, Seamus Ennis – the cultural centre in Naul, Fingal County

…and the legend himself.

Not a great deal to report on the birding front I’m afraid – just two Common Swift to add to the list.

More ‘rest day’ blogging tomorrow, with some Dublin pics to enjoy.

A dreich day indeed Sir…

It was obvious from the moment we woke that today was not going to be pleasant! One look out of the hotel window and we could see the leaden skies, the rain on the pavement and the wind bending the tops of the trees. We watched the ferry cross Strangford Lough a couple of times whilst we had a leisurely breakfast – putting off our departure as long as we dared. We’d already reviewed our route and considered a number of options – agreeing that our proposed night time stop at Blackrock, south of Dundalk, was a little unrealistic. We decided to follow the original coastal route to Clough, a distance of about 22 miles. It was raining steadily and there was a stiff cross wind all the way to Ardglas where a slight change of direction eased things for the run in to Clough – a rather drab urbanised road junction. Our salvation came in the form of the Eurospar, which had all manner of facilities – toilets, an endless supply of coffee and cheesey chips and they didn’t mind us quietly dripping in the corner! It didn’t take much at this point to decide to abandon the original costal route to Newry, instead opting for the straight line option via the two ‘hill towns’ of  Castlewellan and Rathfriland, each with ‘lung-busting’ up-hill approaches of epic proportions, a distance of 25 miles. The weather for this leg was variable, from sustained to torrential rain! We arrived at our hastily rearranged B&B (thanks again to Jane at ‘mission control’) at about 3.30 and spent the next two hours drying off practically everything in our possession. For route/stats see below:

One look out of the hotel window and we knew today was not going to be pleasant.

Bry and bikes on the Portaferry to Strangford  ferry, which requires a phenomenally skilful bit of steering to negotiate the fierce tides

Along the salt sea strand … This bit of beach did produce our only two trip ticks – Turnstone and Pale-bellied Brent Goose…nice!

The Eurospar at Clough, comes highly recommended in adverse weather conditions (probably OK when fine too!)

I’m really enjoying this Bry – thanks for inviting me along!

..and the views of the Mourne mountains are to die for (and we nearly did!)

Four miles to Newry, and things couldn’t get worse….or could they – a thunder storm!

Well it’s half past nine, we’re dry, fed and watered and relishing the prospect of tomorrows ride down to Dublin, just 70 miles and about 4500ft of climbing….ARE YOU HAVING A LAUGH!

A blog of two halves….

The story so far…

We’ve had a pretty horrid day today, more of which later, but safe to say that we have arrived at a B&B with fully functioning internet, so my first duty is to bring you guys up to speed with route stats and photos from yesterday, which if you’ve been paying attention you will know started in Scotland! So first the route:

The first 20k was straight forward enough – just over a bloody great hill and then an easy descent to the ferry terminal at Cairnryan. Two and a half hours later and we were docking in Belfast. It took us a while to navigate our way out of the city, past Stormont and on to Newtownards, and our first visit to a McDonalds of the trip. Coffee and doughnuts and we were off on the final leg, a gentle 30k to Portaferry along the shores of Strangford Lough – or so we thought. As it turned out the weather started to deteriorate as soon as we got on our bikes – first rain and then a stiffening head wind. The road itself was a bit of a nightmare as well – at times it was like cycling around the lanes of the Scilly Isles, but with A47 traffic! We eventually got to the rather grand Portaferry Hotel by 5.30, when the weather started to improve, leaving us with a sunny evening but still with a chilling breeze.

Bryan preparing for departure from the Kings Arms, Ballantrae

On board the Stena line ferry with the Ayr coast in the background

Me, doing a bit of sea watching – mostly watching the sea!

The Belfast city skyline, with the River Laggan in the foreground

Stormont – location of many controversial ‘peace talks’ in the past

The exterior of the rather grand Portaferry Hotel taken from the harbour

The lounge of the Portaferry Hotel

The setting sun over Strangford Lough, taken from across the road from the hotel

….and now, a bath time story – but not one for the children!!

For the first time on this odyssey, as Bryan likes to call it, we arrive at our accommodation and, unlike previous places which have had a perfectly serviceable shower, the Portaferry Hotel had a bath in the room!! I can’t believe my luck – finally a chance to soak my weary limbs in a hot tub. I dump my bags, turn on the taps, get my kit off and run to immerse myself…..only to discover that it’s one of those ‘optical illusion’ models, only about four foot long. What a cruel twist. If you are of a nervous disposition – look away now!

Well that brings you up to date. Todays exploits follow shortly.

It’s a dreich day..!

Woke this morning to thick cloud and drizzle. Well it had to happen, BUT why on possibly our most challenging day of the whole trip?? The only ‘good news’ on the weather front is that the clouds should thin during the day, as the winds from the south west pick up…oh goodie! We are currently reviewing the route options to balance distance, height gain and direction, with the reality that anything we don’t do today will have to be added to tomorrows already demanding schedule. Still no WiFi, so no pics our routes – looks like I’ll be spending our rest day on Wednesday ‘back-blogging’.

Time to face the music…….

A ride of two halves…

It started in Scotland and finished in Ireland; it was sunny, warm and windless when we set off – cold, showery  with a moderate head wind when we finish; we were full of beans this morning (metaphorically speaking that is, as beans weren’t actually on the breakfast menu for some reason!) but by the time we arrived at the rather splendid Portaferry Hotel, more of which later, we were knackered!

Disaster has befallen us – despite the generally luxurious nature of the hotel, it’s WiFi service is down! Unfortunately the 3G signal in these parts is also pretty intermittent. All this adds up to the disappointing news that they’ll be no route analysis or photos from todays stage tonight. The other worrying development is that the weather forecast for tomorrow is rather bleak – rain and a strong south westerly wind on what is potentially the most challenging stage of the whole trip – the longest and the biggest height gain! We’re currently assessing Plan B!

On the positive side the bird list has crept up, mostly due to the ferry crossing which, despite being flat calm and in the middle of the day, produced Kittiwake, Gannet, Guillemot, Razorbill, Common and Arctic Tern – taking us over the 100 mark.

Watch this space for any developments and stay tuned…..








Over the sea to….Ireland!

Woke up this morning to another glorious sunny day – oh and my back and belly covered in little red bites! That’s all I need, another free-loader, hitching a ride! Anyway, to more pressing business – what are we up to today? First off there is a shorter than planned ‘spin’ into Craigryan – just 20k, but it does include a 600ft climb apparently. Then on the ferry to Belfast and a pleasant afternoons ride through the Irish countryside, along the shores of Strangford Lough to Portaferry. Total distance for today, a modest 75k. See routes details below.

A week down, one country done and 700ks under our belt, with just over another 1000 to go!

Golf and Goosebumps

Well one thing we didn’t do much of on the 7th day was rest! This was the second 100k plus day on the trot, the first half of which was spent following the NCR 7, on a circuitous route around the Ayrshire industrial coast line, passing a number of local nature reserves on the way. As a consequence of which we added three new warbler species in the first hour. The second ‘half’, which should have taken us to Girvan but, because of a local folk festival in the town, we had to ride a further 20k to Ballantrae, to secure a bed for the night. A notable feature of the landscape during the mornings ride was the succession of  renowned links golf courses, Royal Troon, Ayr, Preswick and Turnberry. The other aspect of the morning which was strongly evident was the cold, hence the goosebumps, until I succumbed and put on a second wind-proof top. Our coffee break was taken in a ‘quiant’ tea room in Troon, run by a rather ‘theatrical’ couple, with piped seventies show tunes as a fitting accompaniment. A long stint of 40ks, through the historic town of Ayr took us to the lunch stop at Maidens and then another stint of a similar length along the scenic coast road, with the off-shore island of Ailsa Craig being our constant companion. We arrived at the hospitable Kings Arms Hotel by 4.40, showered and eat an enormous evening meal, washed down with Caledonia Best…umh!

Assuming this blog loads smoothly, I feel an early night coming on….

Stats for todays route were as follows:

Starting the NCR 73/7 at Saltcoats, with Arran in the background

The Ayr coastline, looking towards the town of the same name!

A less scenic aspect of the N7!

Me looking posey on the old town bridge in Ayr.

Bryan being even more posey on some sort of thone thing!

Ailsa Craig – it seemed to follow us around…

The ‘club hut’ at Turnberry.

And to finish with, some Bluebells on the beach…aahh!

In case you were wondering, the three warblers were Whitethroat, Sedge and Garden. These plus a few others along the way bring the trip total to 97!

…and on the 7th day

It seems difficult to believe that we’ve been at this malarky for a whole week! During which time we’ve covered 580ks and ridden from the north east tip to half way down the west coast of Scotland. Today sees us cover the majority of the remaining distance to the ferry terminal at Cairnryan, details below. Perhaps the most surprising thing however  is the weather – touch wood (Bryan, stop reaching for your leg!) we haven’t seen a drop of rain, we’ve had plenty of sunshine and the wind has been on our backs most of the way – so thank you Sue Titman for your good luck charm!. We’ve had close on a thousand hits on the blog and our sponsorship has risen to over £1900 – so thank you all. Keep reading, keep giving and spread the word – mention our ride to three new people this weekend!

Better go now, breakfast and another 100k is calling…


Day of Transition

Today has been a day of transition – of weather, scenery and ride fitness. Got up early, packed and had breakfast, ready for the ‘off’. With a longish day in prospect, including a ferry crossing, we were on the road by 08.30. For the first seven miles we didn’t really turn a pedal, descending from Crianlarich to the shores of Loch Lomond, followed by a stretch along the loch side to Tarbert for coffee. Took the old military road to Arrochar on the shores of Loch Long, at the base of the Cobbler, one of the ‘Arrochar Alps’ peaks. A steep descent into Garelochhead, saw us reach a top speed of 56kph and on past the nuclear submarine base – all very exciting! By this time the prospect of catching the earlier ferry appeared a real possibility, so it was flat-out down the Rosneath penisular. Seeing a ferry boat moored up in the distance ahead of us we thought we were approaching journeys end – no such luck! The road took a sharp turn inland and up an equally sharp incline – the second nasty surprise of the morning! Struggling to the summit, we regained our composition and cruised into Kilcreggan an hour ahead of schedule. Clearly the aches and pains that have been a feature of the previous few days are beginning to subside . A short ferry ride across the Clyde took us from a world of Highland hills, lochs and woods to a urban landscape in post-industrial decline. A welcome lunch stop at a garden centre cafe (I never thought I’d hear myself say it..!) and the unconscious bond between us said, ‘let’s finish this’! So it was another 20 miles, at time-trialling speed, to reach Ardrossan by mid afternoon. A cup of tea in Asda (these boys really do know how to live!) before locating the only reasonable hotel along the Ardrossan sea-front, courtesy of Jane, back at ‘Mission Control’. The Lauriston has seen better days but the bike shed is to die for – see photo below. A pint of Deuchars IPA and the sun setting behind the peaks of Arran rounded off a day of change and transition – of looking back to the Highlands, forward to the conclusion of our Scottish sojourn and a new country on Sunday.

Bry ‘spinning’ along the shores of Loch Lomond

The pedestrian ferry at Kilcreggan, with the Clyde in the background

The ‘terminal’ on the Kilcreggan side

The ‘bike shed’ at the Lauriston – aka the Arran Ballroom!

An amazing window on the stairs – Arts & Crafts? (comments from experts welcome!)

A well deserved pint of Deuchars at the end of the day.

The stats from todays ride, in two sections:

Another quiet day on the birding front, the high-lights being three Gannets going up the Clyde having taken a wrong turning, several Manx Shearwaters off shore at Androssan and a Ringed Plover on the beach. Total for the trip so far, 89.


Just realised that we need an early start tomorrow – ferry to catch and all that, so here’s the route. It’s in two sections, before and after the ferry crossing:

In summary, the route is approx. 61 miles with close on 600m of climbing. Lets hope that todays form lasts – because it doesn’t look like the weather’s going to!

Follow @bryanwillams66 to see how we get on….